So you are looking to buy your first camera. Spring is here, flowers are blooming, and the weather is getting warmer. Photography is an exciting adventure enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Smart phones today have really high powered cameras, but you want the real deal. Every beginner should understand the technology they’re investing in when starting their journey, so let this serve as your essential tutorial before committing to your first camera.
The Technology Behind DSLR Cameras
Ever wonder what a camera is actually doing when you take a photo? It’s important for artists to know the technology behind the cameras they are using. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on DSLR cameras. Analog (Film), Point and Shoot, and Mirrorless cameras are some other forms of technology that you might enjoy learning about.
Viewfinder and Mirrors
The viewfinder is your direct glance into what an image will look like. In DSLR cameras, light from your subject enters through the lens and passes through a series of mirrors before exiting through the viewfinder. Much like our eyes, cameras produce images in reverse. The mirrors work to “correct” the image to the proper orientation for you to see through the viewfinder.
The lens is the attachable arm of your camera body that controls many aspects of a photo. It houses a series of focusing elements, the aperture, and magnifiers to manipulate the focus area and amount of light that is seen by the image sensor – see below for more on that.
The aperture is one of the first pieces of equipment that we can manipulate to control how an image will be produced. Measured in f/stops, the aperture helps to control how much light passes through onto the image sensor, as well as control the depth of field or “focus area” of your subject.
It’s important to note that the aperture setting is inverse to what the number indicates. A higher f/stop number will reduce the amount of light that passes onto the image sensor, and vice versa.
In addition to the amount of light that passes through, aperture controls the depth of your focus field. And this works directly with the f/stop value (for example, the higher the f/stop value, the farther in front and behind the focus area will appear in focus).
Getting the aperture setting right is always an experiment in practice and requires many attempts and (*ehhhemmm*) failures (*ehhhemmm*) to get right.
What happens when you actually press the aptly named “shutter release” button? The shutter will lift up (in most camera bodies), or “open” for a specified amount of time. It does this to block the path of light from entering the viewfinder and instead pass straight through to the image sensor.
An activity tip to see this in action: set your camera shutter speed to 3″ and look through the viewfinder. When you press the shutter release, you’ll notice the viewfinder screen goes dark because the shutter door is blocking the mirrors.
Shutter speed is another important area to control as a photographer. Remember light travels really, really fast. The longer you keep the shutter door open, the more light transmits onto the sensor. It’s easy in the beginning to get highly exposed, washed out images because the shutter speed is too slow on a brightly lit day. But, too fast and not enough light will hit the sensor and your image will be very dark.
The meat and potatoes of every camera. This is the most important part of DSLR technology, as it is the most advanced. It is also the deciding factor for many artists when they go on in the future to update their camera bodies.
In film photography, an image is transposed onto the film when light passes through the shutter due to a chemical reaction. In digital photography, it’s thanks to an electrical and computational process where the light particles pass onto a complex array of color filters and “cavities” that then gets processed by the camera’s internal image processor. It really is a marvel of engineering, and if you’d like to read more about it, we’d highly recommend you check out the analysis by Cambridge in Colour.
This is a great place to stop and collect on all this. Cameras can seemingly be complicated and overwhelming, but the technology behind them is truly an amazing feat of innovation.
Now what? Now that you’ve got the basics down, take a look at these great camera options that serve as a strong starting point to your new photography adventure:
And with your first camera in check, start your first portfolio today!